These birds are one of my favourite finches. I have always had them. The yellow beak defines them from the eastern race, the Hecks Longtail with its somewhat stronger tones of colour and the distinctive red beak. I do not keep the Hecks as I find I need as much room as possible to keep as many single pairs of WA Longtails as is needed to keep the strain going strongly. They are a relatively easy bird to keep on a diet of mixed seed, separate trays of red pannicum, termites, clean water, seed and grasses.
They will nest in a nest box or a 10 cm x 20 cm wire cylinder, but prefer to build their own nest midway to high up in the brush. They need a roosting nest so if when they are moved from one aviary to another, or to the holding cage you should make sure they have sufficient roosting facilities.
They don’t need to be bred in a colony; just one pair per aviary I find is the best way.
Sexing from a visual perspective may seem simple when you see the cock with a big round throat spot and the narrow pear shaped throat spot of the hen. There are some hens that have a very large throat spot and there are some cocks that have the small throat spot. The problem is defining the special hen from the inferior cock. Some people say that when the young are first out of the nest they can pick the cocks from the hens, but this is still only picking the good cocks and inferior hens. What we should do to improve the birds is to find those good hens and mate them with the good cocks. The easy to pick hen should be discarded, that is the hen with the narrow throat spot, because if you breed this bird with a good cock bird, chances are you will not improve the quality of the birds. The improvement in overall quality will come from the hard to pick hens.
How to pick the good hen from the inferior cock bird by not using just the throat spot?
- By looking at the head of the bird from side on; if you take a horizontal line from the eye to the back of the skull the cock will be the same silver colour above and below this line, but the hen will be silver below but a steely grey above.
- The area of white feathers on the rump between the end of the black tail feathers and the grey feathers at the base of the back is much longer and whiter on the cock bird and the feathering around the vent area between the tail feathers and the belly is very white on the cock bird but a buff/beige on the hen bird.
- The two tail feathers of the hen are usually straight and not as long compared with the long upswept tail feathers of the cock bird. I have never had nor ever seen a hen with a beautiful upswept curving tail.
I know this does seem like the hard way to sex the birds and sometimes I can still get it wrong, but when I get it right and find a really good hen and mate it with a really good cock bird, it greatly increases the chances of breeding a better percentage of good birds.
I find that Longtails are compatible with Masks that is, a pair of Masks with a pair of Longtails. You will only have a problem with cross breeding if you don’t have pairs.
In every aviary where I have Longtails, I also have Masks. In 15 years of putting this into practice I have had two nests of hybrids both from the same aviary.
The worst birds for producing hybrids in the grass finches are the Parsons and Diggles. They will mate with anything. They are beautiful birds but they are a problem. I find they don’t fit the mixed collection and are best bred on their own or with non-grass finches. This is a problem for me because I have Longtails and Masks in every aviary.